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Pike County Blacks: the spirit of populist revolt and White tolerance (1891-1896) as depicted in the Pike County Journal and other related sources

By Jo Ann Whatley


The \u22revolutionary\u22 racial moderation of the 1890\u27s Populist movement in Georgia has especially been a subject of fascination for historians since C. Vann Woodward, in Tom Watson . Agrarian Rebel (1938), sent out this message in portraying Populism\u27s successes in implementing an un precedented degree of political harmony between Black and white rural masses in Georgia. But except for explaining Georgia Populism\u27s racial rapprochement in terms of its expediency, historians have not expounded at length on the reasons for Populism\u27s apparent deviation from the pattern of racial hostility which characterized post-Reconstruction Democratic (\u22solid South\u22) politics. Using one case example, Pike county, this thesis, however, attempts to explain the racial tolerance of Populism in Pike county in an economic as well as a political context, emphasizing also the peculiar social milieu in which the Populist movement occurred in this Georgia county. Through the historic perspective it will be seen that Populism\u27s racial tolerance in Pike had a dramatic precedent in an even more racially 2 tolerant revolt against the county Democratic party in the earlier 1880\u27s period—namely, the Pike area\u27s focal prohibition independent party move ment. But in addition to identifying specific precedents of racial tol erance such as the Pike area 1880\u27s prohibition movement, this thesis attempts to explain Populism\u27s racial mores in Pike county, Georgia as one aspect of the climactic era which closed a tumultous post-slave post war era. And in this respect, the thesis attempts to briefly chronicle the story of a generation--Georgia\u27s war-devastated generation. It is the theory of this essay that this generation was like none other in the history of the South; it was accustomed to killing and brutality, fear and hunger. It was a generation transformed by suffering and violence and crime. And in Pike, and probably much of Georgia, this generation was transformed to some degree by the dark force of addictive hard drugs. And having this \u22off-balance\u22 personality, this post-war generation in Pike county and Georgia was faced with the pressure of living espe cially in the 1890\u27s continuously on the edge of economic collapse. And in Pike another mind-shattering pressure faced the people in the heart breaking Nineties period—namely, natural disasters in the form of dev astating cyclones, blizzards, crop failures, and an earthquake. In the face of impossible economic conditions, it will be seen that this people looked for survival especially to religion and radical, violent, Populistcentered politics. In addition this thesis is a study of a newspaper\u27s view of race and of an era. For it is through the Pike County Journal, the official county newspaper that the racial tolerance in Pike Populism is seen to 3 be part of a current flowing in this post-Reconstruction rural society. And it is through the Pike County Journal, and to a lesser degree through the official newspaper of adjoining Spalding county, the Griffin Daily News, that the reader is alerted to the fact that the racial barrier in Pike county during the 1890\u27s was less destructive to the quality of life in this Southern society than city-bred and Northern historians might have realized. Also the Griffin News, which started in the Nineties to reflect profound racial hostility and other naissant twentieth century trends, is used as a foil to highlight the racial tolerance of the news paper printed at Zebulon some ten miles up the road from Griffin, the Pike County Journal. And finally this thesis is the story of a generation of Pike county Blacks, which like Blacks throughout the South, was facing the supreme test of their freedom by the last decade of the nineteenth century. And although the Pike Blacks were nevertheless active in the county Populist movement, it will be seen that unlike the liberal precursor prohibition party movement, the Pike Populist movement restricted Blacks\u27 partici pation and segregated them. But during this era of more restricted Black involvement in political revolt, it will be seen that Black dissent—or the \u22spirit of Populist revolt\u22—spilled over into a sphere to which Blacks\u27 efforts to secure their freedom would be largely relegated in the dawning \u27jim crow\u27 twentieth century—namely, public education

Topics: Arts and Humanities
Publisher: DigitalCommons@Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center
Year: 1984
OAI identifier:

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